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I am going to devise an essay on why it is important that we need different types of evidence in order to understand mental health. The reasoning behind why we need different sources, and the benefits different types of evidence can bring. Different types of evidence such as case studies, personal narratives, experimental evidence and correlational evidence, all bring different advantages to understanding mental health; alas some disadvantages. I am going to explore the advantages and disadvantages of these types of evidence, to demonstrate the importance each type of data can play when comprehending different mental health issues.
I am going to explore the key features of personal narratives, and look at the advantages and disadvantages they carry. Firstly, as explained by (Toates, 1995), personal narratives are a qualitative type of research, providing a person’s experiences and feelings told by them, along with any associated behaviours that are corresponding to their experience. According to (Deiner, 2000), believers of positive psychology hold the idea that those who have more upbeat emotions than negative emotions are of subjective wellbeing, and make for good candidates to produce personal narratives.
Personal narratives are a good method of evidence to use in understanding mental health because they are subjective in the reporting from the individual; providing the listener with first hand information that is descriptive and evocative.
A disadvantage to using personal narratives as evidence to understanding mental health is; that there can be a hint of irrationality and uncertainty from those reporting to the listeners, and the information communicated cannot always be corroborated by the investigator. A proven example of this is the story of Mary (appendix 1), a heroin addict. A drug users perspective on life events and ill health will be diminished, as drugs alter the mind and conscious ways of thinking; often resulting in distorted feelings and behaviours exhibited and shared by the individual, making for unusable data.
A second type of evidence I am going to look at is case studies. A case study is an activity or record of research into the expansion of a particular group, or situation over a period of time in order to explain a theory or belief. One advantage of using a case study as a tool of evidence is, case studies are often established on rare cases where extensive tests of similar participants are unfeasible. An illustrative example of this is the study of Phineas Gage by Harlow, J.M. (appendix 2) Cases of brain damage are relatively uncommon, and it is highly unlikely to find others with the same brain impairment as each other. To gather facts of brain functions the damage between people have to be identical to warrant testing the right thing, this is usually only accomplished using case studies.
A disadvantage of using a case study as evidence into understanding mental health is, that case studies are mainly completed using qualitative data, and they are usually done on one person, by one alchemist collecting the facts. This can lead to prejudice in evidence finding, which can manipulate results.
A third type of evidence sometimes used to help us understand mental health is experiments. Experiments are a scientific procedure carried out in order to test a hypothesis, discover a new breakthrough in testing, or to validate a known fact. An advantage of using experiments as evidence is, that the researcher can have control over variables, making it easier to analyse cause and effect. One descriptive example of this is, The Rosehan experiment (1973) on being sane in insane places, (appendix 3). Through this experiment, Rosenhan proved that it is near impossible, to differentiate the ‘normal’ individuals from the insane individuals in a mental hospital; as the connotations of behaviours can be easily miscommunicated; meaning context is key.
One disadvantage to using experiments as evidence is, that they can produce untruthful results. The experimenter or the experimentees, could be swayed by certain factors. For example, (Loring and Powell, 1988), demonstrated that professional clinicians were prejudice of expectations of patients due to their cultural background; giving insincere results. Participants can also manipulate experimental results as they may alter their behaviours if they are aware of the experiment in hand; thus, giving incorrect outcomes.
Correlational studies are another method of evidence used to help understand mental health. A correlational study is where the researcher looks for a relationship between two factors; such as a particular group of people and the manifestation of illness; to determine if a significant change in one variable corresponds to a significant change in the other. The advantages of using a correlational study is, that it can be carried out on changeable elements that can be measured and not swayed, and as they can determine the existence or absence of a relationship between two factors this is helpful for highlighting sections where experimental research could take place and provide additional results.
However, a disadvantage to using a correlational study is, that no one cause or effect can be determined, it cannot be proven that one variable caused another to happen. According to (Benedict,1934), behaviours deemed as normal in one culture or society may be perfectly ‘normal’, yet alien in another. As depicted by (Ratna, 1996), using different methods of study in order to obtain understandings and label mental illness, is fundamentally subjective of the whole diagnostic system, and should not be used. It is suggested that mental diagnoses can be used to separate those who may not ‘fit’ into society; rather than learn to accept and adapt to different ways of viewing the world and behaving ‘normally’.
In conclusion, it is important to make use of different types of evidence in order to understand mental health. Mental illness is termed as a behavioural and experiential relationship that results in psychological distress, with consequential risk posed to one’s self or others. To delve into various research methods is to aid our knowledge into the pros and cons of exercising different ways of gathering evidence; giving us a greater insight into understanding into mental health. Looking at the advantages and disadvantages for the above pieces of evidence, it is apparent that situation and individual circumstance is to be carefully surveyed; in order to select which method of evidence gathering is most feasible.
Mary, a survivor of child abuse, has never been happy and is now addicted to heroin. She suggests, ‘without the history of abuse, I would never be in this mess’. Mary lives in a slum tenement and now also has an abusive partner. She pleads, ‘drugs are a crutch that keep me going’. Mary acknowledges that, in the long term, she would be better off without the heroin but short-term considerations of getting through each day dominate. She says that she feels ‘relatively normal’ only when taking the drug. Mary has tried coming off heroin but, each time, a new source of stress appears in her life and she turns to this ‘chemical crutch’ to lift her mood. A major source of stress was unemployment. She has used legally prescribed substitute drugs but they don’t have the same effect. Mary experiences intense wanting of heroin (termed ‘craving’). Craving can be set off by bad events in her life or by being in the presence of reminders of drug-taking such as the sight of a syringe or the other addicts she knows. She experiences withdrawal symptoms including sweating and shaking and these can also be triggered by being in a drug-related environment. Mary’s family have turned their back on her, claiming that she is just weak-willed. (The open University)
Phineas Gage was a railway construction worker till 1848 when an accidental explosion
drove an iron bar through his skull destroying part of his left frontal cortex. He survived the
accident albeit with a visibly altered personality and changed emotional behaviour.
(The open University)
The Rosenhan experiment (1973): on being sane in insane places
David Rosenhan (Figure 4.13) and seven other ‘pseudo-patients’ were admitted to 12 different mental health hospitals in the USA claiming they had been hearing voices. During the interviews they told the truth about all other aspects of their lives, including the fact that they had never experienced mental disorders before. All (but one) were diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, upon admission, all pseudo-patients resumed their ‘normal’ behaviours and told the hospital staff that the voices had ceased. Crucially, even though the hospital reports uniformly indicated that the pseudo-patients were ‘friendly’ and ‘exhibited no abnormal indications’, none of the hospital staff detected their ‘normality’ – although several patients did. Also, although it took the pseudo-patients an average of 19 days (between 7 and 52 days) to leave, they could only be discharged with a diagnosis of schizophrenia ‘in remission’, which meant that the staff still believed they had schizophrenia. (The open University)
- Benedict, R. (1934). Anthropology and the Abnormal. The Journal of General Psychology, 10(1), pp.59-82.
- Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55(1), pp.34-43. Benedict, R. (1934). Anthropology and the Abnormal. The Journal of General Psychology, 10(1), pp.59-82.
- Loring, M. and Powell, B. (1988). Gender, Race, and DSM-III: A Study of the Objectivity of Psychiatric Diagnostic Behavior. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 29(1), p.1.
- Ratna, L. (1996). Cruel Compassion – Psychiatric Control of Society’s Unwanted. By Thomas Szasz. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 1994. 264 pp. Price not given. British Journal of Psychiatry, 168(06), p.794.
- Toates, F. (1995). Stress. Chichester: Wiley. Ratna, L. (1996). Cruel Compassion – Psychiatric Control of Society’s Unwanted. By Thomas Szasz. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 1994. 264 pp. Price not given. British Journal of Psychiatry, 168(06), p.794. Ratna, L. (1996). Cruel Compassion – Psychiatric Control of Society’s Unwanted. By Thomas Szasz. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 1994. 264 pp. Price not given. British Journal of Psychiatry, 168(06), p.794.
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